JOHN HARMS – Easter Monday: West Coast Dave and the Cats make it feel great to be alive

by John Harms

It’s Easter Monday. Perfect sunny Canberra day. The Bruces are over for lunch. The kids, post sausage-in-bread, are kicking the soccer ball, and Theo (aged two) is filling up the golf hole with dirt from the marigold garden. There are no marigolds as the snails have eaten anything that resembles new growth. They are probably the most effective creatures in the city.

The golf hole has been in good use. West Coast Dave Bruce, a pennant golfer at a top Perth club for many years, has devised a hole for himself and his seven year-old Aiden. It’s a dog-leg left: a par four around the apple tree. The apple tree produced many Granny Smiths this season (none of which made it to the fruit bowl as the parrots are almost as efficient as the snails).

I met West Coast Dave when we were working in the Human Movement Studies department at the University of Queensland. He was a tutor, and doing a masters in sports psyche. He knew sport before he started studying: had played cricket against Justin Langer (a precocious brat in those days), footy, golf and pretty well everything else.

West Coast Dave could talk sport and was hard to beat in the footy tipping competition (which ensured little work was done on Monday mornings and most of Friday).

Most theoretical perspectives were obvious to him, and he has the sort of mind which may have established them from first principles anyway. Consequently he was looking for the edge, the new and original way of thinking about things. He reminded of the international volleyball coaches I had met at Olympia in Greece in the early `90s. They had so exhausted obvious methods that they were looking for the bizarre and unlikely and were experimenting with the idea of looking away from the spiker when the volleyball was smashed at you so that peripheral vision and instinctive reaction superseded a traditional watch-the-ball-directly response.

He also tried things. When driving to the east from Perth one time he and his mate had so much sporting equipment with them they decided why not take the six-by-three pool table. Camping in the dunes of Esperance they couldn’t be seen from the high road, but the pool table could. It generated a lot of interest as travelers left the road to see what a pool table was doing in the middle of nowhere.

Everyone sits in the dappled sunshine except me. I have gone in to put the footy on. I’m keen to see what the day is like at the MCG. It’s a white shirt and hat crowd – nothing like the grey-black crowd of July. A magnificent day for footy.

The phone keeps beeping with text messages from (cocky) Hawks fans. I have a bet with Keithy on the result: lunch in Brisbane at some stage.

The Canberra sunshine is too attractive so I am the only one watching. It feels like a final. The Cats are under pressure, trying to handball and handball their way out of trouble, but they can’t find the free man and they head backwards until finally they attack from the back pocket, sweeping the ball the length of the field to Cameron Mooney who marks just a few metres out. I race out to tell everyone the Cats are on fire and that Moons has kicked the firsts goal of the game. West Coast Dave is coaxed inside and we are surprised to find neither team has scored. Moons has either biffed someone, or has missed from point blank range.

West Coast Dave reckons he’s missed. He’s right. They replay the moment, a left foot, cross-the-body bomb that doesn’t go across the body.

The Hawks are very quick. Their intensity is maintained and the Cats continue to go backwards. They’re spooked by Cyril Rioli. And they can’t contain Roughead and Franklin. Even Ablett can’t get away. (He is caught numerous times during the afternoon in a mediocre display, where he doesn’t seem to be part of the rest).

Cyril shimmies and gets past a Geelong defender (Enright?) like he’s not there. He is going to fast to kick and unsteadied his kick is a scrubber into the forward line. It leads to a goal and West Coast Dave’s first theory of the afternoon: that the oddly bouncing kick into the forward line should be employed more often, because it is complete luck if you get on the end of it. So if you’re losing the 50/50 contests put in a piercing, wobbling Johnathon Thurston grubber-kick.

He has many theories. He doesn’t work in sports psyche any more, but he should. Toomaverick for them. Or just sick of it. Now he’s a Canberra consultant in no fixed discipline so you have to be careful else he’ll borrow your watch to tell you what time it is, then send you an invoice.

He was Grant Dodd’s caddy for a while. I remember seeing him, poker-faced, looking as well-groomed as an ABC newsreader, handing clubs over to Dodd on a windy day at La Perouse. New South Wales is a tough track when she’s roaring from the south, but he coaxed Dodd to a 66 and the lead of the Australian Open.

Walking off the 18th he asked Dodd what he intended to do. Dodd wanted to hit balls. “There’s a few things I should muck around with,” he told Dave. Dave was flabbergasted. “Don’t do it,” he insisted.

Dodd tinkered his way out of the tournament. Dave had had enough. I suspect he thinks sport is wasted on sportsmen. If only he was a few percentage points better himself. I’d be writing a book about him. No dull press conference with West Coast Dave.

The Cats trail at quarter time in an end-of-an-era sort of way. But Linger has snapped the quintessential much-needed-goal late, and the Cats get a breather.

They dominate the second quarter. Bartel is everywhere. But we kick a series of behinds and I feel like I’m watching the `08 Grand Final again. It’s a willing affair – boys being boys all over the park. The Hawks still lead at half-time.

I am quietly confident. Renouf is battling to keep up in the ruck, against Ottens who looks fit and well and keen, and Mark Blake who is giving the fleet of top Cats fist use. The Cats squander more opportunities though. They remained spooked by Cyril Rioli who is going to be some player – he already is some player.

Renouf dislocates a finger. Ling shuts out Mitchell who dominated the first half. Clarkson (who sits on the sideline) is slow to react. He hardly rests Renouf. He doesn’t move Franklin or Roughead on to the ball.

The Cats just grind away, with glacial momentum. And I’m thinking middle-of-an-era again.

West Coast Dave gets the call to come home. He’s not caught up in the emotion of what really is the Cats most significant rivalry. Matches between these clubs have been crackers for quarter of a century.

I reckon both will feature late in September. The Hawks have to blood a second ruckman. If they wait for their injured brigade to return they may have to storm home to finish in the top four. Or use those selected more efficiently.

And the Cats: well, just sing the song (with Theo) on an Easter Monday evening and feel like it’s great to be alive.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. JTH – very nice yarn. I reckon the Hawks have gone down hill against the Cats since foot-in-mouth Jeff Kennett suggested the Cats are mentally fragile. I wonder if the Hawks players think the Cats are mentally fragile !!

    I watched the game in a motel room at Stawell after watching the Gift final – what a rich and enjoyable feast of sport that afternoon was.

  2. The thing that concerns me is the white line fever of the 70’s and 80’s Hawk’s approach on bashing Cats early in the game. There are a few snipers about and I suspect when there is any type of physical stuff returned we will lose players.

    The league made it quite obvious in the first round when Jimmy B was biffed that the Cats were out of favour by allowing the perpertrator to walk.

    I would be bold enough to predict that during the year it will be open season on Cats by opposition players and open season on Cats at the Monday film fest as the League will tend to do little about the first bit and plenty about the second bit.

    Yes I acknowlege that a couple of Hawk fledgelings were caught (Jack Hill the blind miner would have seen them so they had to do something) but a bit slipped through.

    I had the pleasure of watching the last quarter in a Hawk shack after spending the first three painting a wallat mine. In the end it was a rewarding day.

    Go Cats.

  3. nonshedders says

    “painting a wallet mine”.

    Marine paint, by any chance?

    Nice phrase.

  4. Richard Naco says

    This extraordinary game so very closely resembled the Round 17 classic of last year (except for the comparative blow out of the margin), that you just knew there were shared genes between the two.

    Dips: if the Cats even remotely feel that way, Jeff Kennett would be the very last to know. The Cats are the absolute zen masters of the Art of Keeping Schtumm.

    And Canberra in the autumn is simply golden & glorious. Except for the slugs.

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